Symptoms of Autonomic Dysfunction Among Those With Persistent Posttraumatic Headache Attributed to Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Comparison to Migraine and Healthy Controls

Levi Howard, Gina Dumkrieger, Catherine D. Chong, Katherine Ross, Visar Berisha, Todd J. Schwedt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Most persistent posttraumatic headaches (PPTH) have a phenotype that meets diagnostic criteria for migraine or probable migraine. Although symptoms of autonomic dysfunction have been well described among those with migraine, the presence and relative severity of such symptoms among those with PPTH have yet to be reported. Objective: The objective of this study was to assess and compare symptoms of autonomic dysfunction among those with PPTH attributed to mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) vs migraine vs healthy controls using Composite Autonomic Symptom Score 31 (COMPASS-31) questionnaire scores. Methods: Individuals with PPTH (n = 56) (87.5% of whom had a migraine/probable migraine phenotype), migraine (n = 30), and healthy controls (n = 36) were prospectively assessed in this cross-sectional cohort study using the COMPASS-31 questionnaire. Total COMPASS-31 scores and individual domain scores (bladder, gastrointestinal, orthostatic intolerance, pupillomotor, secretomotor, vasomotor) were compared between subject groups. Results: COMPASS-31 mean total weighted score was 37.22 ± 15.44 in the PPTH group, 27.15 ± 14.37 in the migraine group, and 11.67 ± 8.98 for healthy controls. COMPASS-31 mean weighted total scores were significantly higher in those with PPTH vs migraine (P =.014), for PPTH vs healthy controls (P =.001), and for migraine vs healthy controls (P =.001). Those with PPTH had numerically higher scores for all COMPASS-31 domains compared to those with migraine, and the domain scores were significantly higher for orthostatic intolerance (PPTH = 4.80 ± 2.47 vs migraine = 3.33 ± 2.31, P =.027) and bladder (PPTH = 1.14 ± 1.45 vs migraine = 0.47 ± 0.73, P =.020). Among individuals with PPTH, post hoc correlations indicated a positive association between number of total lifetime TBIs with total weighted COMPASS-31 scores (rho = 0.32, P =.020), between years lived with headache and vasomotor domain subscores (rho = 0.27; P =.044), and between headache frequency with vasomotor domain subscores (rho = 0.27; P =.041). Conclusions: Symptoms of autonomic dysfunction were greatest among those with PPTH compared to migraine and healthy controls. Among individuals with PPTH, number of lifetime TBIs was associated with greater symptoms of autonomic dysfunction, while greater headache burden was associated with higher vasomotor domain autonomic dysfunction subscores, potentially indicating that PPTH patients with higher disease burden have an increased risk for having autonomic dysfunction. Symptoms of autonomic dysfunction should be ascertained during the clinical management of patients with PPTH and might be a characteristic that helps differentiate PPTH from migraine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1397-1407
Number of pages11
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • autonomic dysfunction
  • migraine
  • orthostatic intolerance
  • posttraumatic headache
  • traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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